Instinct to Invent: An interview with John A. Nieves




Poet Pádraig Ó Tuama says “language needs courtesy to guide it and an inclusion and a generosity that goes beyond precision and becomes something much more akin to sacrament.” (On Being Podcast ). This type of transcendent generosity watermarks the work of poet, educator, and scholar, John A. Nieves. Whether he’s celebrating his students’ successes on his author website, researching extensively in the fields of literary craft and theory, or creating multiple poetry projects, Nieves approaches each with a fervor that’s a mix of kindness, rigorous inquiry, and expansive experiment. In this interview, he holds up a magnifying glass to his belief that humans can dream a way into answers through language and that slow and careful work yields magic on the page.

Broadkill Review: At this particular moment in time, what’s exciting you or worthy of praise in the literary world? What do you long to see more of?

John A. Nieves: I am super excited about the incredible resurgence of high-quality lyric poetry over the past decade. Recently, I have loved Catherine Pierce’s Danger Days, Valencia Robin’s Ridiculous Light, Kathryn Nuernberger’s Rue & Chelsea Dingman’s through a small ghost. I also love a good chapbook. Caroline Chavatel’s White Noises & Kathryn Merwin’s Womanskin are stunning. I have also been impressed with journals who have maintained a clear aesthetic during the current global tumult. Print journals such as Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Sugar House Review & Massachusetts Review and online journals like Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Rupture & The National Poetry Review are some that come to mind, but there are other excellent examples, too.

I would love to see more funding for college presses and journals. Not just because they create incredible literary artifacts, but because of the valuable experience students get working on such enterprises. I hope, as the budget cuts begin to ease and congress sends more help, meaningful money will go to these projects.

BKR: You are one of the Poetry Editors at The Shore, a literary magazine in its second year of publication. What challenges and joys have you encountered launching it and seeking “poems that press and push and ache and recede?”

JAN: Working with The Shore team has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. For every issue, I read so many incredible poems. Sometimes deciding what to let go is heartbreaking. It took a while to get used to the workflow, which, as you know, is significant. Emma DePanise and Caroline Chavatel, my co-editors, are two of the smartest, most capable people I have ever known. We have excellent chemistry, and though we are physically distant (Maryland, Indiana, Georgia), we are in near-constant communication. The rest of our staff also does incredible work on interviews, book reviews, the blog, and social media. It really takes a team and we have a strong one.

After the crunch to proof every issue, I have such an incredible sense of pride about the work we have put into the world. We have been lucky to have attracted some incredible international poets, too, especially from Nigeria and India. They have added so much to what we can offer. I think the thing I am most proud of is to usher what I see as deeply moving and sincere poetry into the world with a group a great editors.

BKR: The Shore wants “poems that explore the worlds of things and ideas, that recognize the liminality, the shifting of everything around us, and our ability to name a thing whole.” Can you elaborate on that and perhaps name some poets who do this well?

JAN: The